Valentine ’s Day might have come and gone, but there is still plenty of love at the Park Terrace Health Campus in Louisville, Kentucky. On the 14th of February, the volunteers handed out baby dolls and toy puppies to the Alzheimer’s patients at the nursing home and the reactions of the patients was surprising.
The women instantly started to cradle the heads of the dolls and the men would gently stroke the puppies while holding them in their laps.The giveaway was part of an initiative called Pearl’s Memory Babies, a passion project of Sandy Cambron, a Kentucky native whose mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Doll Therapy
Cambron delivered the dolls with her co-worker Shannon Blair, whose mother is also staying at home, living with Alzheimer’s.“It’s heart-breaking and heart-filling all at the same time because it makes you realize they’re lonely because they’ve lost everything they know,” Blair told TODAY.
“It’s almost like Sandy was giving them something back that they’ve lost… immediately, they make a connection with it.”
Cambron began her mission a little over a decade ago when her mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and moved into a nursing home. Cambron tried many different ways of easing the transition in a home.
She began with toy cats and dogs, as Pearl loved animals, but this had little to no effect. She didn’t really start to cheer up until Cambron brought her a baby doll.
After Pearl passed away in 2008, Cambron decided to bring dolls to other patients in the nursing home in her memory. She tried to return as much as she can delivering dolls every year when she could.
When Cambron heard that Blair’s mother was having a hard time at home, she offered a doll for her and her roommate.“I didn’t understand what I was about to experience.
My mom’s roommate had such an overwhelming reaction to the doll — it was very emotional.”While there hasn’t been any research done about Alzheimer’s doll therapy, there is some evidence about the benefits of it.
Daphne Simpson, a professional caregiver and lead nurse, understands that doll therapy has its critiques, but it does have benefits as well.“The main argument against it is that it’s demeaning to a person with dementia. ‘Playing’ with a doll is something children do, not adults, they say.
Whilst I do sympathize with this opinion, especially when it’s expressed by family members who are upset or embarrassed at the sight of a loved one acting in an apparently infantile way, I do think doll therapy can be beneficial, when used correctly.
In my opinion, doll therapy isn’t purely ‘playing,’ it’s actually fulfilling an important need; the need to nurture.”The dolls make the patients feel reconnected with a part of themselves they have lost to the disease.
They might not fully remember, but the feelings they had coming back while holding the dolls were the same feelings as if they were holding their own children or grandchildren. Simpson recalls a patient they had in the UK that responded positively to the doll.
“One lady, for example, was already non-verbal when I started caring for her, but was attached to her doll. She liked to wrap a shawl around it, cuddle, pat and kiss it. She was a mum of four who’d obviously spent many happy years nurturing her own babies, so this was a perfectly normal activity for her which she enjoyed – so why not?”
Tips for Using Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s disease
If you have a loved one that suffers from Alzheimer’s and are interested in trying out the doll therapy, Simpson has some useful tips that might help you out:
- Doll therapy is great for people with mid-stage dementia, but you can begin earlier if the loved one agrees to it;
- You shouldn’t hand the doll directly to the person, instead leave it somewhere they can see it and pick it up for themselves if they want to. The person you are caring for should not feel like the doll is being forced on them, as this can stress them, ultimately defeating the purpose of the therapy;
- Get a doll as realistic as possible; there are many different kinds of dolls available that can be fed and even changed. Avoid dolls that cry or make noise, as this can be aggravating for those who have dementia.
It is incredible the things we hold on to, even when we think it is all lost, and that is what exactly the Alzheimer’s doll therapy is all about according to Blair.
“It’s as if it’s a child or a grandchild, or something that maybe takes them back in time.”